Kat Perkins became a household name to many fans as she sang her way into their hearts as a contestant on NBC’s ‘The Voice,’ but her musical journey started many years before hitting the spotlight. The daughter of a music teacher, this multi-faceted artist has been singing, dancing, and performing for just about as long as she can remember. At just 15 years old, Perkins made the move to the Twin Cities from rural North Dakota and her professional career began as she became a success in the Minneapolis-St. Paul theatre scene.
Over the years, she lived and breathed music, inching ever closer to achieving her dreams as she performed and recorded music as a solo artist and with numerous bands. In 2012, she had success with a single written by Chad Kroeger (Nickelback) that featured Guns N’ Roses guitars Ron ‘Bumblefoot’ Thal, Nine Inch Nails drummer Ilan Rubin, Grammy-nominated producer Joe Marlett (Foo Fighters, Korn) and her current musical director Eric Warner. Soon after, Perkins was forced into an early retirement due to voice problems. She underwent vocal surgery and became a full time nanny. In 2013, she received an opportunity to go to the Middle East to perform for the military. While on the trip, a video of her singing randomly at the Amsterdam airport ended up on Youtube and prompted a call from “The Voice.”
After her amazing run on ‘The Voice’ as a Top 5 contestant, coached by Adam Levine (of Maroon 5), Kat finds herself in the midst of writing the next exciting musical chapter of her life. Her new single, “Fearless,” was produced by John Fields (Pink, Miley Cyrus, Selena Gomez) and independently hit #5 upon release on the iTunes charts. Her EP, also titled “Fearless,” is a massive hit with fans and provides a glimpse into what the future holds for her as an artist.
Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Kat Perkins to discuss her musical roots, the lessons she learned as part of “The Voice,” what she has in store for us musically in the months to come and much more!
Obviously, music played a massive part in your life. What are your first memories of music?
I remember performing for my first audience when I was 4 years old. It was in a high school gymnasium and I remember the moment so clearly. I always took the opportunities that came my way. All the way up through elementary school, we would go to every single talent competition and make our own opportunities! Instead of having a lemonade stand, I would sing to people for a dime! [laughs] When I was 15, I started the family band with my sister, my dad, my uncles and cousins and we started getting paid for it. That is when I started working professionally, when I was 15 years old.
Music is clearly a family affair but what made you want to pursue it as your career?
I knew at a really young age that I wanted music to be my career. I was 10 or 12 years old when I knew this is what I wanted to do and that I would fight for every single opportunity to sing and eventually make it my career. I worked my butt off to convince people that was my decision and that I absolutely knew. It was hard to do that in a small town! My high school counselor, God love her, but she would always say, “Yeah, but what do you want to go to school for? What do you want to get your degree in?” I would be like, “Performing! I want to perform! I don’t care what I need to do. I want to make that happen!” It was a long road but my family always supported the decision from the word go. Eventually, I got an entire team on my side that said, “Go for it, girl! Do everything that you possibly can to be able to sustain a career doing what you love to do!”
You had success in music before we became more familiar with you on “The Voice.” What can you tell us about what you had going on in the time leading up to the show?
Even before that, I decided to move to the big city when I was right out of high school, 18 years old. I started to pursue more of a theater type of career because I knew it would offer more opportunity when it came to making some money. I planned to save up by doing a theater gig where it was contracted and you are hired for a certain period, you get paid for your time and you get to perform. Granted, I had to dive into acting and dancing and that wasn’t something I was used to. It was a challenge for me to take that on with no training and by learning on the job, if you will. I did that for more than five years from show to show and from tour to tour doing theater. All the while, I was saving up my money to be able to eventually branch out and start my own band. That is exactly what I did! In 2004, I had enough money set aside to start a band, buy a vehicle, buy a trailer, record a record and set out in what we now know as the band called Scarlet Haze. We did that for years. successfully, all the way up until 2009. We toured constantly and finally got a record deal. We had a really fair push at the end of it, in 2009 and 2010, with a single written by the lead singer of Nickelback, Chad Kroeger. We had a record label behind the whole thing and some funding by Warner Music Group. That was the most exciting time of my life, ya know? It was all happening! We had a single on the radio and were on the rock charts. I was living the dream and doing what I had always worked for! Unfortunately, right at the same time, the rock scene was taking a dive and rock was going in a downward spiral as country was rising. We couldn’t sustain and eventually I dissolved the band.
You also experienced some vocal issues, which you eventually underwent surgery to correct. What were you up against there? It has to be a pretty scary spot to be in for someone in your position.
Oh my god! Absolutely! It all happened at the same time, so it felt like the entire universe was crashing on me with the band falling apart and these vocal issues happening. We ended up finding out that I had a 2 centimeter sized cyst on my left vocal cord. It wasn’t really related to overuse or burnout but I was susceptible because I had used my muscle for so hard for so long while working my butt off in this industry. I knew that the universe was telling me to slow down! [laughs] I think it was perfect in the end but at the time I was devastated and at the time it felt like I would never be able to sing again and would never be back in the business. In retrospect, it was the time I needed to take to get the fresh perspective on the industry. At the same time, “The Voice” audition came through at the tail-end of this period. I would have never have done any of this without the kids I ended up nannying through this break, the early retirement I was forced to take for a bit. Suddenly, I was nannying these kids and inspiring children every single day. When this opportunity for “The Voice” came along, those kids were like, “Why wouldn’t you, Kat? This is what you love to do!” They really pushed me back into that mindset of following my passion, not making it a hobby and doing what I love to do.
Looking back on your experience with “The Voice,” what is the biggest lesson you took away?
Oh, man! There are a couple of them! One big one is to always keep going and follow your passion. Take advantage of every single opportunity that comes your way, especially if it comes your way! Keep making opportunities to do what you love to do! Don’t get complacent. That is kind of what was happening before this opportunity came my way. I didn’t realize it, it was just the way that it was. I was recovering and getting back into the industry but the experience let me know that I still needed to trust my gut. That is something Adam Levine told me every single day, “Trust your gut, Kat! Whether it is a singing choice, a song choice on the show or just generally in life. You have the intuition of a very successful person.” I am a natural born leader. I am a Capricorn and a goal-setter. Adam reminded me that I need to trust my gut, keep my goals in mind, move forward in what I love to do and pursue that passion. It’s great because now I get to inspire not only the kids that I nanny but children around the world and the youth of the nation to do the same thing. Follow their dream, trust their gut and pursue their passion.
You have a lot of irons in the fire at the moment. First, you have been hard at work on a new EP. What were your goals and expectations when you started?
I really wanted to set out and have a strong single, get my message out there and remind people that I can write my own stuff and sing original music. I really focused, this time, on the message I wanted to bring post-Voice, instead of the genre that I might have been representing. It was more important to me to have good lyrical content and a message through this whole thing. At the same time, we were talking and getting feedback from my fans, both old and new, about what they wanted to hear me sing. The immediate request was the three songs I ended up singing to save my life, per se, on “The Voice” for the Twitter saves. This was the first season they had implemented the singing part of the Twitter save, where they had us sing another song and people tweeted to save your life. I was like, “Why not! In conjunction with the single, why don’t we record those three songs, purchase the mechanical sync license and give the fans what they want?” They loved hearing “Barracuda” and those cover tunes, so I was like, “Yeah, let’s package something. Instead of just having the single, let’s give the fans what they want while we gather ourselves and continue to write the next original record, which will likely have ‘Fearless’ on it as well, so we can have that timeline into the new year.”
What can you tell us about your typical songwriting process? Do you have a particular process in place?
I used to! I used to have a fantastic formula and then I went to execute that formula for myself and it didn’t work this time! I kept saying, “Maybe I am just creatively blocked right now? I am coming off a giant national television show, so maybe that is it. I don’t know.” In turn, I finally figured out, soon after that realization, that I needed to change my process. I started collaborating with a guy I had always wanted to collaborate with in The Twin Cities, along with my normal co-writer. He was completely about to change my process and bring me to a different realization about the music first and then the lyrics. I had never done that before! It had always been lyrics and then music. We have come up with the coolest new stuff that we are working on for this new record. It is like Lorde meets Katy Perry with Kat Perkins branding on it. It is poppy and fun. I am making sure the lyrics make people feel something, whether it be party time fun stuff and some of the sad stuff that I used to write about that brings out the emotions in people who connect with me on a real level. I think people are going to be really surprised because the classic rock thing is only referenced and is not what I am really going into. I am more going into a new sound that I have always wanted to do and that new songwriting process has absolutely made it such a fresh thing for me and hopefully for the listeners as well.
As a fan of your work, it is really exciting to hear you so excited about it!
Yeah! I am completely stoked!
Looking back on your career so far, how have you most evolved as an artist?
I think about how age has affected me. I don’t ever really rely on my age as a factor but I think the life experience I get to write and sing about makes a difference. You understand when an 18 year old puts out a song about love and you are like, “Yeah, you think you have been in love. Right!” You have no idea that in a few years you will be able to connect with that song in different way. I think I can bring that to the table. I have a lot more life experience. I have been through a lot personally and professionally and I get my audience a little better than I did when I was 18 years old. I feel like I learn about them better every single day and learn about myself better every single day. We are all growing and changing. I feel like I have a little bit of an advantage there with simply connecting with the message that I am trying to convey with my writing. I think people will really feel that when they are listening.
You come from the world of rock. What are your thoughts on the current state of that genre?
My former opinion, when I was coming out of it, was that rock was dying and would be a really tough sell on anybody. It’s really funny, now when I am paying attention to the scene so much again, it’s not so much that rock is dying because good songs are good songs. There are bands both new and old that continue to amaze me with their success with something as simple as a good song. That is something people in Nashville used to tell me. They always used to say, “Listen, it’s all about the song. If you write a good song, it will speak for itself.” There were times when I was like, “I don’t know about that. I think there is politics involved and blah, blah, blah.” There are bands out there right now, like New Medicine from Minneapolis, that have limped their way through this tough time of rock and have sustained. I realized it is because they come out with really good songs. That still speaks for itself! Rock in general has had this tip of the scale where other genres have dominated the radio and what people are buying out there but good songs are good songs. I feel like whatever genre it is in, people will buy it if they connect with the lyrics and the melody. It will be interesting to see what the rock genre will bring in the next few years but I feel we are starting to see it come back as a whole, as well.
Many people see you as an inspiration and role model. What is your best piece of advice for young artists looking to make their way in today’s music industry?
I get faced with this question every single day, whether it is via social media or by the kids I am speaking to in schools. It really comes down to a couple simple things. Never give up! I am only standing here in front of people now because I didn’t give up. Things haven’t always gone my way. I am not sitting here because things were easy and everything has gone my way every single time. As long as you go into pursuing a dream or a passion with that mindset and knowing that it is going to be hard, you have to have perseverance and you need to constantly change and evaluate your process, meaning and the reason why you want to do this, you will absolutely find success. You will be fulfilled by whatever you do as long as you don’t give up and become discouraged. You have to learn from every single bump in the road and every experience you have in following your passion.
I know you have been very involved with many charities. What can you tell us about that part of your life?
I have been doing a lot of charity events! That is something I was really adamant about when coming off of “The Voice.” I wanted to give back because of all the people who supported me. I have been working with the Gillette Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis. That one is really near and dear to my heart because the little boy that I nannied ended up using their services in the past couple of years. He was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease as a very young child, 8 years old. I immediately came back and said, “What can I do for your organization?” That is the biggest one. I have also been working with another one called Hope Rocks. They do a bunch of different establishments. The one we really worked hard for was called Faith’s Lodge, which is a retreat for parents who have sick kids or who may have lost a child due to illness. Those are my two big ones. We are also coming up on this big North Dakota Heart Association event that we are going to do a lot of things for in North Dakota, which is my home state. That is another one that is near and dear to me, as my cousin is really leading the troops here in Bismarck, North Dakota. Of course, giving back as much as I can to the youth is something I truly love.
Awesome! Where are the best places for your fans, both old and new, to keep up with all you have going on?
My website is www.katperkinsmusic.com. I am also on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Sometimes they might give a little too much of an inside view of my life but I love giving the fans that perspective and letting them still live my life like we did on “The Voice,” where we were very open to everything. I love letting them see I am a real person in this world and I am following my dreams. They can follow and interact with me there and I completely encourage it!
Thanks so much for your time today, Kat! You are terrific and I can’t wait to spread the word on everything you have going on!
Thank you, Jason! I really appreciate it and it was a pleasure talking to you!
Jason Price founded the mighty Icon Vs. Icon more than a decade ago. Along the way, he’s assembled an amazing group of like-minded individuals to spread the word on some of the most unique people and projects on the pop culture landscape.